Friday, June 12, 2009

Christie Taillon Cummings interview 1968

Christie Taillon, born 8 Nov 1891, Williamstown, Ontario, Canada married 1909 at Cornwall, Ontario, Canada to John Cummings. rather than my trying to tell you about her life, an interview that she gave Jane Benham 26 Sep 1968 might be interesting for you to read. Christie Taillon Cummings lived on St Ann St. in St Regis Falls,N.Y. was a stanch member of the Holiness Church, where she often played the pump organ and piano. John and Christie's children were, Aretta [Brabon],Kenneth, Shirley [Phelps], and Sheldon. plus a son Wessley who had passed away at age 15 , from a infection from a horse bite.

From her interview: Christie Cummings came to St Regis Falls in 1902 with her mother and stepfather Mr Belmore. She was 10 years old at the time. Her family had previously lived in Williamstown, Ontario, about 25 miles below Cornwall. The family lived outside of St Regis Falls in what was later John Dora.s house. Mr Belmore worked in the lumber camps and took what other jobs he could find to support the family. Henry Ashlaw hired her mother to cook in his lumber camp four miles from Santa Clara, from then on, she and the children spent most of their time in the camps. Christie lived in the woods until she was 15. She got up at 3:30 on winter mornings to help her mother by paring potatoes, setting and waiting tables, making beds, and sweeping floors.
Meals in the lumber camp usually consisted of salt pork, baked beans and potatoes. These were often warmed over from one meal to the next. Cisco salt fish were purchased in barrels, and barrels of blackstrap molasses and light Caro syrup were also used. Christie's mother was a good cook, usually made breads, cakes and pies every day.
The men who lived in the camps also got up at 3:30 a.m. to hitch up their horses and sleds to draw logs to the river for the spring drives.
The bunks where the men slept were made of poles placed crosswise and covered with straw. Bedbugs and lice were everywhere. The cook's quarters were separate and were kept in cleaner condition. The only recreation time the men had was the times they went to town and came back drunk.
About the first of March each year the lumbermen broke camp and drove the logs down river to the mills. Christie never saw a river drive but her husband later worked on them.She did remember seeing the logs in the river before the drives began, When camp was broken, Christie and her family went home for a time. She remembered that the horses wallowed in the snow and the wagon almost tipped over, as the road out of the woods was so bumpy. In May they returned to camp and the lumbermen started over again. During the summer, the men cut and peeled pulp and piled it on skid-ways. The skid-way was a pile of logs where two men rolled other logs up. They put oil on their bodies in an attempt to keep the flies and mosquitoes away.
The last camp Christie's mother cooked at was owned by Jack Fraser. Harry Nelson was the foreman. that was 54 years ago [in 1968]. Christie never worked that camp, but said her mother had two chore boys--one inside and one out. The inside boy was Mose Martin from Malone.
She didn't know how many men were in the camp, but her mother used a 25 pound sack of flour a day to cook for them. Christie's husband John was a filer [sharpened axes and saws]. There were two blacksmiths: Dennis Gokey, and her father in law Jim Cummings.
Once Christie and her brother Lewis, who was four years younger went to visit their older sister who was married and still lived in Williamstown. Their mother bought them new cloths and shoes at a store in town. However when they had to walk along the tote road to Santa Clara to catch the morning train to Cornwall, they wore their old shoes and carried the new ones so they wouldn't be ruined. At the bridge in Santa Clara, they changed their shoes and put their old ones under a log. The next week when they returned, they went to the log, changed their shoes again and returned to camp.
When Christie was about 11 years old, she stayed with her sister for about a year, The sister lived on a farm and Christie had a good time, although she worked hard every day with haying and drawing out loads of manure.
There was usually no special celebration on Christmas or Thanksgiving when the family was in the woods, they sometimes didn't come out for almost a year. Special food was prepared for Christmas dinner, but there were no gifts.
The biggest celebration was usually the Fourth of July when a large parade and dinner was held in St Regis Falls. A dance pavilion was set up at the railroad depot where the fire station is now, and there were clowns and other entertainment. Everyone dressed up and enjoyed the good times. A number of businesses existed in the town at that time. A pulp mill up the river ran only during the summer after the soring river drives. The train crossed the river near it at Block bridge where people fished for bull heads. The Brooklyn Cooperage mill was across the river from the depot and was open all year. There was also a chair factory run by Mr Babcock and a mica factory. Hotels were run by Jim Farmer, Sam McLeod, and a Mr Bishop. The Waverly House was build by W.T.O'Neil. Two more hotels were on Tannery street, now river Street.One of these was owned by Mr Campbell. At one time, there was two theaters, run by Bill Deshaw and Fred Aldrich. A drug store was owned by Joe Wardner, Mr Tryon had a grocery store in the building where the present Rockhill store is. This was later taken over by Paul LeMeiux. John Prue ran a store and butcher shop there too. Cal Aldrich's dry good store was located where Larry Rivers appliance store is now. Next door where Sonny Rivers is now, George Butler had a shore repair and harness shop. Oren Wilson owned a grocery store where the laundry mat is and was later taken over by Ernie Tripeny. Clate Southworth owned the other grocery store across the river. Dr Wardner, brother of Joe Wardner, had his office above the Tryon store. Another doctor in town during that time was Dr Moody. A town newspaper, the Adirondack News was published by R. A. Rowell.ea had only a few telephones then, best way to get in touch with anyone any distance away was through the mail, but roads were often closed with snow in the winter, and sometimes the mailman could not get through for days. In 1908, Christie was married to John Cummings. John usually worked in the woods all winter, and Christie stayed home to take care of her family. The Cummings lived in the country until 1922 when they moved to the present home on St Ann Street. The older children started school in a country school on the Port Kent Road.
Although the Cummings were not farmers, they kept a cow, horse, pigs, chickens, and a garden-enough to keep them busy.Christie did her laundry with a scrub board and carried her own wood and water when John wasn't home. She built her own fires in the mornings and heated water in a pan on the stove for dishes. A table held the water pail and wash dish. The floors were made of wide knotty boards, and scrubbing them was a difficult job. Christie said all her neighbors lived and worked in this same rough way. They weren't able to push buttons and pull switches to get their work done. Everything had to be carried in and carried back out when they were done with it. It bothers her now when she hears people complain about the amount of work they have to do, for she doesn't feel they really know what work really is.

I did not change anything, there are facts here that you will not find in any books written about the area.
Christie lived about a year and a half after this interview dying 26 Mar 1970, she had a great memory and certainly lived through a wonderful period when women especially were able to get away from the difficult labor of keeping up a home-how upset we are when the dish washer fails or the TV will not come in. Think about the extra labor you are missing when you buy that individual wrapped boned chicken breast. Christie would have had to kill it, pull the feathers, sing it, boil some water on the wood stove, clean out the inside and then cut it up. So much for the good old days

1 comment:

Jim C said...


Thanks for posting this.
It was interesting for me when I first read this to see how hard everyday life was for my grandparents.
You are correct in saying "so much for the good old days".

Jim Cummings